Zombie vs. Psychometer: The Anton Strout Execution...I Mean Interview

Today, we've got Anton strapped to the barber chair Stacia swiped from the Sweeney Todd set. That's right kids, it's an inteview, interrogation-stylee. Check it!

Mark: Hey Anton, I normally ply my interviewees with alcohol but it was a wild weekend in the League Lounge--as you know--and we're fresh out. Luckily for us, you can't resist an opportunity to talk about yourself or your book, Dead to Me. Why don't you give the peeps a primer?

Anton: Why give you a primer when super-author and southern belle of urban fantasy Charlaine Harris puts it best: "Simon Canderous is a reformed thief and a psychometrist. By turns despondent over his luck with the ladies (not always living) and his struggle with the hierarchy of his mysterious department (not always truthful), Simon's life veers from crisis to crisis. Following Simon's adventures is like being the pinball in an especially antic game, but it's well worth the wear and tear."

Sorry, I was in a fugue plugging state...lemmee see, where did I put that primer. Oh yeah, here it is!

Psychometry-the power to touch an object and divine information about its history-has meant a life of petty crime for Simon Canderous, but now he's gone over to the good side. At New York's underfunded and (mostly) secret Department of Extraordinary Affairs, he's learning about red tape, office politics, and the basics of paranormal investigation. But it's not the paperwork that has him breathless.

After Simon spills his coffee on (okay, through) the ghost of a beautiful woman-who doesn't know she's dead-he and his mentor plan to find her killers. But Simon's not prepared for the nefarious plot that unfolds before him, involving politically correct cultists, a large wooden fish, a homicidal bookcase, and the forces of Darkness, which kind of have a crush on him.

I think that nicely sums it up, although I am partial to the cover copy where it says, "For this paranormal investigator, it's business as unusual..." I cracked up when the copy department told me and when I asked which of them wrote it, they said that I had. It was from in the book. I didn't even know my own genius!

Mark: I've had the pleasure of reading an advance copy and quite enjoyed myself, I'm ashamed to admit. Simon is a psychometric smart-ass. We all know you're the inspiration for the smart-ass part, but are you holding out on a psychic ability?

Anton: Well, I'm a skeptic on all things paranormal. I've never experienced anything in my adult life that has been, but I'd like to think that of the 90% of our brains that we don't use (a higher percentage for some people), it would be a much cooler world if the powers existed. Then I could finally crush you with mah MIND POWERS!

Mark: Heh. (sharpens straight razor, grinning) Being zombie week, I'd be remiss if I didn't ask about your fondness for the legion of undead. What's the allure?

Anton: For me zombies are such a great allegory for the slow march of inevitable death that comes to us all. Zombies are all about inevitability. First they're funny cuz you can outrun them and they're kinda clumsy. But eventually you gotta rest or sleep or stop, but they keep on marching on...like time. When the zombie apocalypse comes, I'm gonna giggle like a schoolgirl cuz I know I'm not gonna survive, but I'm gone love kicking ass and taking names until I go down, shotgun ablazing.

Mark: You joke about working for the same house that's publishing your book, but I suspect you had to go through the same channels as most first time authors. Am I totally wrong? Was there some sort of Penguin conspiracy to start producing books from within? I'm frightened.

Anton: Well, I certainly had more access to some of the people in the industry than most, but as it's been pointed out to me over and over again, they never would have bought my book if it actually didn't deliver. That said, it was nice to be able to approach the people I've known for a decade and ask advice and such.

My first sale, which was a short story to DAW didn't come through an in-house connection, but from attending the writer's symposiums at Gencon. I think to help yourself break through as a writer you have to be a little bit shameless, so I pretty much approach anyone willing to talk to me and try to make a connection. Of course, you don't wanna be an asshole or too pushy about it, but editors and agents are people and approachable, especially at genre events.

Here's how selling Dead To Me went down:

When Dead To Me was finished, I asked one of the editors I dealt with as part of my day job to take a look at it, strictly on a no-strings-attached basis. I was looking for feedback to make it better, and with access to these professionals, I'd be silly not to at least ask the question. She said yes, she'd look at it.

And I waited.

And waited.

And I saw more and more books in the genre I was writing getting pubbed all around me. It did little to calm my nerves. Again, the manuscript was being looked at simply as a favor to me, so I had to exercise infinite patience.
As I waited to hear back on the full manuscript, however, life went on. I sat in a bazillion meetings where I kept seeing books like mine being put on the schedule.. books eerily like mine. Either my finger was on the pulse of what was hot or I was very derivative. It was killling me.

So then one day in March of 2007, I was actually in a meeting with one of the fantasy imprints where they actually said "If only we could find a new urban fantasy author to break out" which naturally had me squirming in my seat. So I went back to my office and sent my initial editorial reader an email saying "Listen, this isn't to put pressure on you, but Company X is practically begging for the type of book I've written and I'd like to show it to them while the discussion is fresh".

Someone else wanting my type of book must have lit a fire or something because the editor promised to finish my manuscript over the weekend and give me an answer. That next Monday, Ace Books offered me a two-book deal.

Now quick everybody.. go do what I did and you too will be guaranteed publication!

Mark: You've been pretty open about the anxieties of first time novelists. Where are you today, less than a week from the official release, with literally tens of people counting on you to succeed, to be awesome? Still stressed? How do you deal?

Anton: I'm surprisingly relaxed right now because reports of people finding the book in stores pre-on-sale date have been coming in and now that it's 100% out of my control, I take comfort on that. I have been taking a lot of meds to help me sleep tho and for once in my life, I'm almost sick of hearing me talk about me and my goddamned book. Almost.

Mark: Simon 2 has got to be close to delivery, what's next for Anton? Simon 3? Something new? Retirement?

Anton: Book two is due to my editor on 2/26 when book one goes on sale. I think I hate my editor for that a little for balling up all my anxieties into one focal point. Simon 3, as it were, actually started coming to me in the process of fleshing out Simon 2 so the notes are already going down for it. There is a special regular fiction project I'd love to get back to, but all this paying work keeps getting in the way. Poor me, I know. Send PEZ!

Mark: Finally, how excited are you about HAPPY HOUR OF THE DAMNED? I hear it's one of your wife's favorite books, does that trouble you?

Anton: When I see her laughing and reading another man's book in bed, it's like she's slutting it up with him, that hussy! My wife actually likes uncomfortable movies and books (Palaniuk, for one) so she doesn't read a ton of my genre. Which will probably save our marriage in the long run. She used to be an editor for Three Rivers Press, so I try to keep from putting her in that editorial mode and such.

And just for the record. It's not that she liked HAPPY HOUR. It's just that she started reading it and it disappeared. She may actually have been saving me from having to read it and having it scar me for life. Maybe it's buried outside in the yard, the way a dog hides things it know will harm its master.

Mark: Oh, who are you kidding? She loved that shit. (turns to the open door) Ilona! I'm going to do a quick slice so get the furnace ready, okay?


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